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Ken Borland



John McFarland Column – What made the difference for the Lions? 0

Posted on April 21, 2017 by Ken

 

The Lions’ win over the Stormers in the weekend’s big game in Cape Town was a fantastic effort.

I predicted last week that whichever side defended better would win the game and that was the case. The key difference was the Lions defence dominated the collisions and were also able to force vital turnovers against the home side.

The Stormers’ defensive policy meant they stayed out of the rucks because the Lions have such width to their game; but that resulted in uncontested, free ball for the Lions and allowed them to build control of the game, and in defence Jaco Kriel and Malcolm Marx were vociferous over the loose ball.

If a team keeps more numbers on their feet in defence then they can build greater width in their defensive line and it is a tactic used by a lot of teams, mainly at wide rucks. With this you should be able to get greater line speed and come harder off the line because of the players on their feet. The Stormers have used this tactic since the Jacques Nienaber era, with the defence outnumbering the attack, and it requires great discipline for players to stay out of the ruck, and so your penalty count will be lower.

If you do defend that way, then you need line-speed and the Stormers didn’t really have that. You need to put pressure on the halfbacks because they are the decision-makers, cut down their space and options, and that was lacking. Elton Jantjies had his best game of the season.

This is completely different to the approach of a team like the Hurricanes, who put pressure on the ball and push the attack backwards, forcing turnovers, which is the hardest ball to defend against.

First prize in defence is to get good tackle contact, maybe a double-hit, and then get over and steal the ball, like Kriel does. The Stormers are lacking a specialist openside flank which means this form of defence suits them, but obviously they need to revisit their recruitment policy and develop or find an openside.

The Stormers were keen on making offloads, getting their hands above the tackle, which means you have to stay up in contact, leaving you vulnerable to the choke-tackle. The Lions were very effective at keeping square and hitting the carrier so that the offload opportunity was nullified or could only be made under extreme pressure. This also resulted in turnovers through the choke-tackle, just like Ireland used in the 2011 World Cup win over Australia.

The Stormers will be disappointed with the blindside try they allowed Sylvian Mahuza to score because the wing should always be up on the short side, Cheslin Kolbe was hanging back which gave space and Harold Vorster ran a wonderful line, through pillar three and four, who were watching the ruck and not him, allowing him to slice through.

It takes a special talent to see the hole in the defence and then to hit it, and Vorster shows how blessed South African rugby is in terms of backline depth. The two leading centres favoured by Allister Coetzee – Damian de Allende and Juan de Jongh – are both injured, so the performances of Vorster have been very encouraging.

The Cheetahs were really on fire for the first 30 minutes of their game against the Chiefs and some of the rugby they played, and the courage they showed to run from deep, was a joy to watch. It just shows that the decision to go with only four South African franchises is going to have the terrible consequence of a lot of people, fine rugby players, losing their livelihoods and jobs, or taking the road overseas.

Francois Venter was very influential with his reverse runs and clever lines, and the Cheetahs still use the strength of their maul well and that caused the Chiefs many problems. They run their exits off the restarts, they take you on first and then look for a short kick. They got good reward from chips during that opening period.

There probably should have been more yellow cards in the first half-hour because the Chiefs were really under the pump and they started to concede penalties rather than tries. They knew that even two penalties against one try was a good deal.

The deliberate conceding of penalties really stops the attacking momentum and after a penalty the offending side then gets territory because they kick deep from the restart! It certainly calls for captains to speak to the referees, the captain needs to put the right sort of pressure on the referee.

Some captains are better at this than others – eg one Richie McCaw! – but it’s a vital thing to get that influence. There are never a lot of yellow cards given because referees don’t want to have an overbearing influence on the game, but there’s normally at least one and it’s important teams find the right time to go to the referee by the captain.

For example, Jan Serfontein’s yellow card last weekend for the Bulls against the Sunwolves was for something not much different to what the Chiefs were doing. But the scoreline influences the decision. In that first half-hour in Bloemfontein, the high tackle when it was a one-on-one by Damian McKenzie was a prime example. He was at the last line of defence and such fouls raise the question of a penalty try.

The Chiefs knew they would score tries at the back end of the match and the Cheetahs’ conditioning was off so the game followed the traditional pattern of South African teams versus New Zealand sides and they ran out of steam in the last 20 minutes.

I was pleased to see the Bulls get back on track and to see CEO Barend van Graan so publicly back the coaching staff. The reward was a quite convincing win and the best result against the Jaguares by a South African team this season.

Congratulations too to all the schools who took part in Easter festivals in South Africa. These are a wonderful showpiece for the game and a very special part of our rugby itinerary. Long may these traditions continue, it’s just wonderful to see the number of games of such quality over the course of a day and that so many come out to support these festivals.

With SA Rugby’s plan for four Super Rugby sides and eight professional Currie Cup sides, you wonder where these highly promising young players are going to get opportunities to play. Obviously the Varsity Cup will be an entry point, hopefully these players will show patience and remain in South Africa.

 

John McFarland is the assistant coach of the Kubota Spears in Japan and was the Springbok defence coach from 2012 through to the 2015 World Cup, where they conceded the least line-breaks in the tournament and an average of just one try per game. Before that, McFarland won three SuperRugby titles (2007, 09, 10) with the Bulls and five Currie Cup crowns with the Blue Bulls. In all, he won 28 trophies during his 12 years at Loftus Versfeld.

 

 

Back to school for Saru, who look set to fail again 0

Posted on February 13, 2017 by Ken

 

If the South African Rugby Union were a kid, based on their 2016 performance they would be the one who failed to pass their grade and has to repeat the year, hopefully being shamed into harder work and improvement by the embarrassment of sitting in a class with a bunch of people a year younger than you.

Unfortunately, if I was their teacher in that school, I would be forced to conclude already at this early stage of the year that Saru are doomed to fail again because they are simply repeating the same mistakes.

We are two weeks away from the start of Super Rugby and we still don’t know yet whether Allister Coetzee will continue in his post as Springbok coach. If he does – and that looks likely given how tardy Saru have once again been in sorting out their most important appointment (apart from arguably the CEO, who has done another of his disappearing tricks) – then Coetzee will once again find his planning set back by an administration that seems intent on tying one hand behind his back.

The contracts are apparently in place and the official announcement is supposed to be made in the next week, but we’ve heard that line before.

There is another vital appointment that Saru is also dragging its feet over and one that just creates enormous uncertainty amongst the best junior talent in this country and their parents, many of whom are probably sitting on offers from overseas.

Dawie Theron finished his tenure as national U20 coach in June and a replacement has still not been named. There is a great candidate – both in terms of the success he has achieved with young rugby players and the tremendous transformation message it would send – sitting in Potchefstroom by the name of Jonathan Mokuena, previously a manager of the Junior Springboks side, a winner of the Varsity Cup and a successful coach of the Leopards senior team.

But instead there are strong suggestions Abe Davids, the brother of Saru vice-president Francois Davids, is being lined up for the job.

Former traffic cop Francois Davids is also the president of Boland rugby, the union which suspended Abe Davids in 2014 for faking his coaching qualifications, and has been accused of such nepotism by the clubs in the area that the administration was called the “House of Davids”.

The only good news coming out of Saru lately  is that they have invested in getting Brendan Venter back involved with the Springboks. With him and Franco Smith, working with Matt Proudfoot and Johann van Graan, Coetzee will finally have back-up staff worthy of the Springboks.

Of course the name of Rassie Erasmus still pops up from time to time and the former Springbok and director of rugby has put in a lot of time and effort in plotting his coaching career-path. A leading Afrikaans Sunday newspaper seems be the PR company for his ambitions.

While the dithering and politicking carries on in the Saru boardroom, the All Blacks have already held their first camp together and the gap just widens. One would hope the news that the Springboks could be ranked as low as seventh after the next round of Six Nations matches would shock Saru into decisive action, but the wheels of their bureaucracy turn with the speed of a sloth.

 

Cricket is a strange game but Kingsmead was just stupid 0

Posted on August 29, 2016 by Ken

 

Cricket is, in many ways, a strange game but there is nothing as infuriating than play not taking place when blue skies and bright sunshine are overhead. That was the case in Durban last weekend as the first Test between South Africa and New Zealand was allowed to just die with only 99.4 overs being bowled in the match.

As an endangered species, Test cricket needs to be given utmost support and attention and I firmly believe that where there is a will, there is a way.

Notwithstanding the foolishness of Cricket South Africa digging up the Kingsmead outfield in order to soften it two weeks later than they should have, meaning it struggled to cope with unseasonal heavy rain in Durban, the villains of the peace for me were English umpires Ian Gould and Richard Illingworth, who showed little interest in actually getting play underway, so fixated were they on a few damp patches on the outfield.

The umpires are the final arbiters of what is fair and safe in terms of conditions, but lines have to be drawn somewhere. Both teams were eager to play – in fact the Proteas were gathered on the side of the field shortly after play was finally abandoned on the fifth day eager to have a run-around and get some fitness in, but they were prevented from going on to the field because that would have made the umpires look bad.

I am certain that if it had been an ODI or a T20 match with similar soft areas of outfield, a plan would have been made and the umpires would have done everything in their power to get a game underway.

As usual, the accountability has been shifted to Kingsmead, who never wanted the outfield to be dug up in the first place. The International Cricket Council, as usual, passed the buck. There was absolutely no communication from the match referee, Andy Pycroft, to explain why play was not possible, and he declined to speak to the media. What’s the point of having a match referee if that is their attitude?

To make matter worse, the umpires were so apathetic when it came to making an effort that they actually banned the groundstaff from the field when groundsman Wilson Ngobese and his staff wanted to proceed with mopping up operations, saying they preferred to allow natural processes like sun and wind to run their course.

Week in and week out rugby players are busy making crunching tackles and sidestepping such collisions in often wet conditions, but how often do one of them turn an ankle? With both teams happy to play, the only conclusion is that Gould and Illingworth were being overly precious.

The future of Test cricket may not bother them or Pycroft, but what happened at Kingsmead under their watch was a fiasco and just another small nail in the coffin of the original format of the game.

Proteas captain Faf du Plessis spoke earnestly on Friday about how, for them, Test cricket was still the ultimate and it needed better treatment from the ICC.

“Test cricket is still number one for the players and a Test Championship is a step in the right direction. You ask any of the international players and they will tell you that Test cricket is still the best thing to play and we need to play as many Tests as possible.

“You want to be able to say you’ve given everything on the field and that feeling of winning a Test can’t be copied, especially not by T20. I hope the ICC is looking at that,” Du Plessis said.

Sadly, the ICC are more interested in red tape and bureaucracy, and are way more likely to jump up and down about over-rates, sponsors’ logos being too big or a player saying something even mildly controversial in a press conference.

As usual, the administrators seem to think cricket fans are more interested in what they are up to than in the actual game they are meant to be serving.

Deysel recovers quicker than expected & will lead Sharks 0

Posted on May 31, 2016 by Ken

 

Loose forward Jean Deysel will be leading the Sharks out into battle against the Western Force in their SuperRugby match in Durban on Saturday, the Springbok having made a quicker than expected recovery from an ankle injury.

Although Francois Steyn will be playing – and replaces the resting Pat Lambie at flyhalf – because Sanzar’s appeal against his exoneration on a tip-tackle charge will now only take place on Tuesday, coach Gary Gold felt the captaincy would just be an additional burden on a player who has had a troubled start to the season.

Deysel will be no stranger to the captaincy, having captained the Sharks in numerous Currie Cup games as well as in some SuperRugby encounters.

“The captaincy was an interesting debate, and if Jean hadn’t come through well this week we would have gone with Marco Wentzel as our captain. The other guys in the mix were Frans Steyn and Ryan Kankowski. I am sure Frans will lead the side again at some stage soon, but given the controversy around him this week we felt it was the wrong time to shoulder him with the extra burden of captaincy,” Gold said.

There was advance notification of Lambie, scrumhalf Cobus Reinach and flank Marcell Coetzee being rested this weekend and their replacements are Steyn, who will bring just as much presence to the number 10 jersey, Conrad Hoffman and Deysel.

The powerful Andre Esterhuizen comes in for Steyn at inside centre.

Deysel will be playing blindside flank with Renaldo Bothma shifting to openside.

With so many first-choice players out, the back-up players now have the chance to state their worth.

“Having to make so many changes is challenging, there is no doubt about that, but at the same time it is exciting as we have a lot of depth to our squad and this is a chance for us to see what the players who might not usually get an opportunity do in a big game. This is a chance for us to look at our depth, to assess what we have available,” Gold said.

Team: 15-SP Marais, 14-Odwa Ndungane, 13-JP Pietersen, 12-Andre Esterhuizen, 11-Lwazi Mvovo, 10-Francois Steyn, 9-Conrad Hoffmann, 8-Ryan Kankowski, 7-Jean Deysel, 6-Renaldo Bothma, 5-Marco Wentzel, 4-Mouritz Botha, 3-Jannie du Plessis, 2-Kyle Cooper, 1-Tendai Mtawarira. Replacements – 16-Monde Hadebe, 17-Thomas du Toit, 18-Lourens Adriaanse, 19-Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20-Daniel du Preez, 21-Stefan Ungerer, 22-Fred Zeilinga, 23-Waylon Murray.

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